26 May 2020

National Party MPs contradict each other over diversity in front bench

1:54 pm on 26 May 2020

The new National Party leader has defended the lack of diversity on his front bench, saying there are plenty of talented Māori in the wider caucus.

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New National Party leader Todd Muller and his deputy, Nikki Kaye. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

While three out of the top ranked MPs are women, there are no Māori MPs on the front bench, or of any other ethnicity.

The party's Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was today named as Māori by the leadership as an example of diversity, which he promptly rejected.

MPs were back for their first regular caucus meeting since the lockdown but so much has changed, and for some the defeat is still raw.

Ousted deputy leader Paula Bennett told media today to interview Judith Collins first as she'd be "needed in caucus more than I will'' to which Collins replied, "ohhh Paula''.

The new look front bench was revealed yesterday - a mix of Bridges and Muller supporters - but for the most part very similar to the front bench under former leader Simon Bridges.

With both Bridges and Bennett gone the ethnic diversity has reduced considerably leaving new leader Todd Muller to field questions about it today.

"For me the numbers are less important to the jobs I've asked them to do.''

Muller and his deputy Nikki Kaye were asked how many Māori MPs were in the shadow Cabinet.

"Shane Reti, and Paula Bennett,'' Muller replied.

"And Paul Goldsmith obviously is of Ngāti Porou,'' Kaye chipped in.

But that was news to Goldsmith as he headed into caucus just minutes later.

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Paul Goldsmith today. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

"No, I'm not Maori,'' he said.

Trying to put some context behind it, Goldsmith said, "the Goldsmith family have many connections with Ngāti Porou".

"My great great grandfather had European wives and Māori wives, and so I've got lots of relatives across Ngāti Porou - I don't claim to be Māori myself.''

Other National MPs were asked if they thought there was a lack of diversity.

Maureen Pugh said she was pleased with the number of women on the front bench, but didn't address the ethnic diversity.

Bennett was happy to throw the question back at the new leadership, saying it was for them to answer.

Asked about Goldsmith's Māori heritage, she laughed out loud, and repeated Goldsmith's name as if to check whether the media had the right person.

Alongside all this, Muller is also looking to put other questions to bed - those about his "Make America Great Again" Trump hat.

He spent the weekend defending the hat saying he also had Hillary Clinton pins and they were simply memorabilia brought back from when he travelled to the American conventions.

But today he acknowledged it would stay in the packing box out or respect for the strong views held by some.

Labour MPs weigh in

Labour Māori ministers have also weighed into the debate over National's front bench diversity.

Employment Minister and Labour Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson described the new line-up as "old hacks''.

"They talk about the Māori vote, but the reality is they insult Māori. They don't stand in the seats despite a number of their members wanting that,'' Jackson said.

"It's typical of the National party - the real National Party is coming out now.

"The reality is they've never been particularly supportive of people who have pro-Māori stances in the party."

Labour deputy leader and Crown/Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis said: "It's disappointing but not surprising - same old same old from National''.

Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said he thought National MP Shane Reti would have been a strong contender for a front-bench position.

"We're a classic example of, for a long time the Labour Party needed strong Māori representation.

"Now we have four Māori ministers, a strong Māori caucus, and I feel that our people's voices are best represented in the decision-making processes,'' he said.

"So that's what you lose when you don't have Māori representation.''

National MPs tried to defend the front-bench ethnic diversity - including Māori MP Shane Reti - who is in the shadow Cabinet but not on the front bench.

"It's in the eye of the beholder. There is some diversity there - diversity of experience, diversity of gender certainly.

"Look at the number of women in that front line-up. I think we can be pleased, it's a work in progress,'' he said.

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